Locavore may be new to our lexicon, but the concept is as old as the hills. It's just that now we have a name for a lifestyle that was as familiar to our grandparents as butter churns and washboards. As in most concepts, however, it means different things to different people. For Rosie Carter of Stone Free Farm it refers to “people who are enthusiastic about eating local food.” Jim and Carol West of Dolores generalize it to “All things local; not just food.” Matt Keefauver, City Councilman and owner of Tierra Madre Herbs, explains that it is as much about relationship as it is about food: “Where the food comes from has a story.”Most food, according to Keefauver, comes from at least 1500 miles away, making the environmental impact significant. And yet, though many people are driven to eat locally because of ecological concerns, for Keefauver it is the relationships that grow out of knowing your farmer and knowing your food which are the biggest motivators. The stories, the relationships, the farmers, the food: it's all there on Saturday mornings at your local farmer's market.
I warned you in the last Parsnippet that it would be raining tomatoes soon. Get out your umbrellas. They are here, in great variety. I counted no less than eleven stands offering up red beauties on a recent Saturday. Varieties ranged from the classic Celebrity and Beefsteak to the more obscure heirloom varieties.Heirloom tomatoes, according to Russ Parsons, author of How to Pick a Peach, are “open pollinated, as opposed to hybrid, so the seeds grow true to the parents.” He states that it is generally agreed that heirloom varieties must have been around for a minimum of three generations in order to qualify as heirloom. How does this translate into appearance and taste? Heirloom tomatoes are not always runway-model perfect; they may have small imperfections or perhaps be oddly shaped and colored. But, as in life, blemishes can be transformed into character. And these babies are bursting with delicious character. Muskovich, Italian Heirloom, Pink Brandywine, Purple Prudens, Nebraska Wedding, Cherokee Purple all await the shopper who is looking to take the next step toward tomato evolution. (And don't you love the names? Each one has its own story to tell.)
In celebration of the tomato, try this Heirloom Tomato Tart from How to Pick a Peach which features caramelized onions, buttery puff pastry, salty olives and cheese, and local fresh tomatoes.
Heirloom Tomato Tart
1 16 oz. package frozen puff pastry, defrosted in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. (Note: you may also use frozen filo dough in place of the puff pastry, just don't expect it to puff up as high.)
2 Tbs. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 locally-grown onions, sliced moderately thin
2 1/2 pounds locally-grown tomatoes, preferably an assortment of colors. (If you don't care for cooked tomato skins, then peel the tomatoes by dipping them into boiling water for a couple of seconds; the skins slip right off.)
1 large egg
2 ounces pitted, oil-cured black olives
1 ounce pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Combine the olive oil and onions in a large skillet over medium heat.
Cook, covered, until the onions soften, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. Replace the cover and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the onions are golden and sweet, about another 45 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Cut the tomatoes in half vertically, then slice each half horizontally as thinly as you can. Arrange the sliced tomatoes in a colander placed in the sink, sprinkle liberally with salt, and let sit for at least an hour until the tomatoes give up their liquid.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and unfold the sheets. Beat the egg until it is pale. On a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper, lay out one pastry sheet. Using a pastry brush, paint a thin strip of egg wash along the narrow edge of the pastry sheet. Arrange a second sheet so it is overlapping just along the painted edge and press to seal.
Scatter the cooled onions down the center of the pastry. Finish draining the tomatoes and arrange them in overlapping slices in the center of the pastry on top of the onions. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the tomatoes. Scatter the olives over the top, then shave the cheese over everything.
Fold the top and bottom edges of the pastry over so they barely overlap the tomato filling. Fold over the sides in the same way (it will look a lot like a big burrito). Paint the edges with egg wash to seal. Brush the entire thing with olive oil and bake until the pastry is puffed and a shiny dark brown, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and scatter the chopped basil leaves over the top. Let cool slightly before serving.
If you want something fresh and unexpected to wash it down with, try cucumber water, recently served up — free of charge — to thirsty shoppers at the farmer's market. Start, of course, with local cucumbers. Peel them, but it is not necessary to seed them. Slice them up into 1/2 inch-thick rounds and fill a pitcher about halfway up with the cukes. Don't be shy about quantity; just stuff them in. This is a great way to use up cukes that are either too large and seedy to put into salads, or have been hiding in your refrigerator long enough. Pour room temperature water over the cukes until the pitcher is full. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day you will have a healthy, zero-calorie, refreshing drink.
Carrots are sprouting up everywhere at the farmer's market about now, so another beverage you might want to consider sneaking into your refrigerator before summer officially ends is carrot lemonade.The carrots and pineapple juice lend enough sweetness so that no additional sugar is necessary. And goodness gracious the color is truly psychedelic. Vitamins A and C never looked so alive or so thirst quenching.
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 C water
3 C pineapple juice* and/or unsweetened white grape juice
3/4 C lemon juice
Water, ice, lemon wedges
*Sorry folks, no locally grown pineapples around here. Flexibility is also a virtue.
In a medium saucepan, combine carrots and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes or until very tender. Cool slightly. Transfer cooled mixture to a blender, add 1 cup of the pineapple juice, and blend until smooth.
Transfer the blended mixture to a pitcher. Stir in the remaining pineapple juice and the lemon juice.Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours (the mixture may thicken). If it becomes too thick, you can stir in 1—2 cups of water until it is the desired consistency. Serve over ice with lemon wedges. It will keep in the refrigerator up to one week.
Locavores: those of us who are driven to live a sustainable lifestyle; health enthusiasts who are interested in getting the freshest, most vitamin- and mineral-rich food available; cooks and connoisseurs of fine food; friends and families of farmers; people looking for new ways to approach food — they're all there at your Cortez Farmer's Market helping, each in his own way, to grow a better community.
The Cortez Farmer's Market is open Saturdays from 7:30 to 11:30 at 109 W. Main (www.cortezfarmmarket.com).
The Parsnippet is supported by Livewell Montezuma, a healthy eating active living (HEAL) community.
Wendy Watkins is the owner of S'more Music, a private Suzuki piano studio in Cortez. She can be reached at 565-4129.